Tigrayan Fighters Claim Capture Of Ethiopia’s Strategic Town Of Dessie

After months of contentious fighting, Tigrayan forces claimed the capture of the strategic town of Dessie in the Amhara Region that borders Tigray, according to Al Jazeera. The Ethiopian government, however, denies Tigrayan forces gaining control of the region and claims that Dessie is still under full government control. Residents reported that government forces retreated on Friday following heavy fighting and power outages in Dessie. The Tigrayan rebels then entered the city without any defence from the Ethiopian National Defense Force. Getachew Reda, a spokesperson for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), told Reuters news agency by satellite phone from an undisclosed location that Tigrayan fighters pushed government forces from Dessie and were headed towards the town of Kombolcha, according to Al Jazeera. He also added that the rebel force has taken many Ethiopian soldiers. The capture of Dessie would be a strategic gain for the rebel forces against the central government, which is actively trying to push them out of the Amhara Region.

Samuel Getachew, an independent journalist based in Sodo, Ethiopia, said the capture of Dessie would mark a momentous gain for rebel forces in the Amhara Region. “It’s an important city and people are really under siege, they’re just waiting for what’s going to happen to them,” Getachew told Al Jazeera. “There was a warning from the leadership of the TPLF that they were coming to Dessie – and here they are.” However, Legesse Tulu, a government spokesperson, said that this claim made by the Tigrayan rebel forces was “fabricated propaganda.” Meanwhile, the United States called on Tigrayan rebels to withdraw from the Amhara region with a statement from the state department urging the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to “halt its advances in and around the cities of Dessie and Kombolcha”.

I have written about issues in Tigray before and my criticism still stands. There is an urgent need for both sides to find a reasonable medium whereby they could negotiate a cease-fire. Instead of extending conflicts and violence, the Ethiopian government must allow the African Union to help initiate talks and solutions and focus on opening routes for international aid.

Ethiopia is one of the most vulnerable African countries and has suffered years of political instability and human rights abuses. The conflict in Tigray started to escalate in November when the Ethiopian Government ordered ground and air military operations after accusing the TPLF of orchestrating attacks on federal army camps. Many young civilians are forced to fight for their lives and there are countless reports of young girls and women being sexually assaulted by the combatants. These children and women are caught in the middle of the conflict and are being neglected by the government that remains committed to the offensive course.

The conflict in Tigray reflects the government’s inability to deal with civil conflicts peacefully. On the one hand, there are innocent non-combatants, including young children and women, who are the most vulnerable and are having their rights abused every day. On the other hand, there are the Tigrayan forces who are unhappy with the central government. Those rebel forces are also Ethiopian people. I am not taking the rebels’ side, however, the government should learn to make amends and try to understand what angers the Tigrayan forces. If both sides seek to annihilate each other without any mutual understanding, neither side will be able to regain stability in the long run. At the same time, the U.S. and other international actors must keep pressuring both the TPLF and the central Ethiopian government to cease their fire and begin negotiations.